The Unit

The Unit


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The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

Ninni Holmqvist’s uncanny dystopian novel envisions a society in the not-so-distant future, where women over fifty and men over sixty who are unmarried and childless are sent to a retirement community called the Unit. They’re given lavish apartments set amongst beautiful gardens and state-of-the-art facilities; they’re fed elaborate gourmet meals, surrounded by others just like them. It’s an idyllic place, but there’s a catch: the residents—known as dispensables—must donate their organs, one by one, until the final donation. When Dorrit Weger arrives at the Unit, she resigns herself to this fate, seeking only peace in her final days. But she soon falls in love, and this unexpected, improbable happiness throws the future into doubt.

Clinical and haunting, The Unit is a modern-day classic and a chilling cautionary tale about the value of human life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590519271
Publisher: Other Press, LLC
Publication date: 07/18/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 635,625
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Ninni Holmqvist lives in Skåne, Sweden. She made her debut in 1995 with the short story collection Kostym [Suit] and has published two further collections of short stories since then. She also works as a translator. The Unit marks Holmqvist’s debut as a novelist.

Read an Excerpt

It was more comfortable than I could have imagined. A room of my own with a bathroom, or rather a suite of my own, because there were two rooms: a bedroom and a living room with a kitchenette. It was light and spacious, furnished in a modern style and tastefully decorated in muted colors. True, the tiniest nook or cranny was monitored by cameras, and I would soon realize there were hidden microphones there too. But the cameras weren’t hidden. There was one in each corner of the ceiling–small but perfectly visible–and in every corner and every hallway that wasn’t visible from the ceiling; inside the closets, for example, and behind doors and protruding cabinets. Even under the bed and under the sink in the kitchenette. Anywhere a person might crawl in or curl up, there was a camera. Sometimes as you moved through a room they followed you with their one-eyed stare. A faint humming noise gave away the fact that at that particular moment someone on the surveillance team was paying close attention to what you were doing. Even the bathroom was monitored. There were no less than three cameras within that small space, two on the ceiling and one underneath the wash basin. This meticulous surveillance applied not only to the private suites, but also to the communal areas. And of course nothing else was to be expected. It was not the intention that anyone should be able to take their own life or harm themselves in some other way. Not once you were here. You should have sorted that out beforehand, if you were thinking along those lines.

Reading Group Guide

1. Dorrit can be described as very obedient. She submits to her fate by going to The Unit without protest and does not seem naturally inclined to buck authority. What personality traits or life circumstances do you think causes a person to be obedient? Conversely, what leads one to question the rules of the establishment? Are you the type to question or accept the status quo? What do you think makes you that way?

2. In The Unit, the residents are surrounded by luxuries they did not know in their former lives outside. The food is abundant, fresh, and masterfully prepared and presented. Their apartments are comfortable and well-appointed. They have access state-of-the-art exercise facilities, and can shop in lovely boutiques in exchange for no money whatsoever. How do you see the availability these creature comforts to the indispensables? As perks? Mere distractions? How is this different from the meaning you might attach to these things in your own life?

3. Although she was content, owned a home with a garden, had a dog she loved, and a love affair with Nils, Dorrit was deemed by the state to be dispensable. To whom or to what was Dorrit's presence necessary? What determines one's worth? In order for our lives to have meaning, do you feel that we must make a contribution to greater society?

4. Dorrit comes from a big family--she was one of five children. And yet she describes them as being "scattered to the winds like a dandelion clock." What caused her family to become so disconnected? In thinking about your own life, what things do you do to maintain a family bond? What significance does family hold for you?

5. Dorrit finds more love and companionship, in the Unit than she ever did in her former life. Why do you suppose intimacy comes easier to her in The Unit? Do you think she ever would have developed deep friendships outside? Why or why not?

6. There are many gifted artists in residence at The Unit. Dorrit's writing comes much easier to her there than it did at home. What is it about The Unit that enables such creativity to come to the fore?

7. Dorrit was raised in the time before the laws about organ donations and indispensables were enacted, in the post-women's lib era when independence was encouraged and valued. Dorrit's mother, having raised five children and seeing the possibilities that lay before her three daughters, discourages them from getting "caught in a trap" by a having children and getting married. Yet these women live to see values shift once again to the point where a woman's life is only of value if she is a mother. How is Dorrit a product of her time but also trapped by it? Discuss the paradox of being a feminist in a society where your life only has meaning if you provide for others.

8. Why do you think that, despite their closeness and Dorrit's pregnancy, Johannes makes his final donation without consulting Dorrit and without saying goodbye in a deliberate way? In what ways is this decision selfish? Selfless? Do you think Johannes did the right thing? Why or why not?

9. Why does Dorrit abandon her escape attempt and return to The Unit? What would you have done?

10. Several times over the course of the novel, the society is referred to as a democracy. In what sense is it a fully democratic society? Are the people in the wider community truly free? What freedoms are afforded to the dispensables?


A Conversation with Ninni Holmqvist

The Unit is not set in the present, but its echoes of present-day issues are clear and ominous. Describe the world of The Unit.

The Unit is a dystopia set in a near future. It is about people who don't have any children or anyone else who loves them and need them, and who aren't useful to the society in any other way either. These people are called "dispensable," and they are picked up at their homes at a certain age (women at 50, men at 60) and taken to special units ("reservbanksenhet" in Swedish) for biological material. They are supposed to serve society through participating in various tests (like animal testing but done on people) and also, eventually, by donating organs to needed citizens -- the ones who produce and raise children, the ones who contribute to economic growth -- that are afflicted with severe illnesses and need organs from healthy bodies to survive. Dorrit Weger, who just turned 50, is one of those dispensable. She is a writer, childless, quite poor, and lives alone with her dog. The story begins with her arrival at the unit, an establishment/institution she immediately finds a lot more comfortable and human and loving and beautiful than she ever could have expected.

The Unit raises a number of complex -- and sometimes disturbing -- ethical questions. Do you see the novel as having a central moral theme?

The book is above all written as a critique of society and the way political leaders today see everything in figures and numbers. But my aim was also to raise questions like: What is freedom? What is human dignity? How do we humans value our selves and each other? But The Unit is also very much a story about love (Dorrit meets the love of her life at the unit, a man called Johannes, and she also, miraculously, gets pregnant) and friendship and loyalty.

Whom did you write The Unit for? Did you have someone -- personally, or in society -- that you intended the story for?

My intention was that it is for everyone. But I guess it might especially appeal to middle-aged single people, childless ones. But also people that are or are close to other categories of "dispensable" people: disabled people, for instance, longtime unemployed persons, culture workers. And people who are critical of capitalism and economism. Perhaps also people who don't mind being provoked.

Customer Reviews

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The Unit 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 52 reviews.
divideByZero More than 1 year ago
The characters are well done and the plot is smooth and polished. To me the premise of the plot is not meant to be a possible future, but more a starting point for a question. For whatever reason, as the complete social picture outside the complex is not entirely expanded upon, the characters have accepted the fact that one will fulfill this obligation in the Unit once they are no longer useful to society. With that as an accepted obligation it really lets the author bring up the point of the individual over the group or the other way around? What is it that makes life important, to what lengths will one sacrifice and how will it hold meaning. These are a few of the things that ran through my mind while reading the book. Sometimes one must lose to win is another. But most of all is how important individual experience is. I enjoyed this book and I felt like I got to know a few people in the process.
TiBookChatter More than 1 year ago
"The Unit" is deceptively pleasant. Picture a gorgeous resort, complete with spas, recreational facilities, gyms, pools, libraries, lots of restaurants to eat in and beautiful gardens. Add to that, well-appointed apartments and access to the best medical care. All of this for nothing. Well, not quite. As the residents live out their lives, they are subjected to medical experiments and research trials that include mind-altering drugs, rashes, painful skin ailments, or.organ donation if the Unit requires it. As you can imagine, some organ donations could mean the end of the line for the resident. They call this, the "final" donation and it gave me chills every time I came across the term. Although there are rules and 24-hour surveillance cameras, the residents grow accustomed to life in the Unit and actually begin to look forward to when they can once again be necessary and contribute whatever is needed to those on the outside. As Dorrit settles into her new life, she doesn't expect to find love so she is quite surprised when she does. This added element of complication, forces her to consider her options. None of which seem ideal. The Unit is highly stylized in the telling. As a reader, I found myself completely absorbed in the actual structure of the Unit itself. It seemed very modern, but not too far into the distant future which was a bit unsettling to me. The author paints a bleak, chilling tale yet everyone is pleasant.polite and even caring which is surprising in that cold, antiseptic environment. The residents and staff treat each other with great respect. They function for the good of society and all seem willing to contribute in their own way. It's frightening really. It's perfect in one sense but completely horrific in another. Holmqvist does an excellent job of touching on the issues. Ageism, the ability to contribute, value and self-worth are all themes here. But. I was a tad disappointed with the development of many of the characters. All of them seemed to be somewhat guarded. I wanted more emotion. There was some, but certain situations called for more. There was a numbness to them. Perhaps that was intended, given their circumstances. Needless to say, I felt a bit detached from them. Overall, I will still recommend it to anyone who enjoys dystopian fiction, because it was good, and well written, but it didn't leave me with the broad, sweeping. save the world feeling that I usually get from other novels like it.
pianistnao More than 1 year ago
This was one of New York Times' summer reading recommendations for 2009. I soon purchased after the list was published and read at a stretch. It discloses our modern era's implicit as well as explicit notion--childless people(especially women)= dispensable. About a few years ago, I heard in Japan there was a new slang "make-inu" translated in Japanese as "loser dog". This means you are a so-so successful female who has a fine career in late 30s/in 40s who is SINGLE and NO KIDS. Japanese society labels you as a loser. This book made me think about life. Very good plot.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fascinating topic that was well executed and writing; leaving readers with no easy answer but an interesting philosophical question.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Unit is one of those books that is so scary because it could actually happen in the future. The writing style captured and held my attention from the first word to the last page. Some of the plot was predictable, but the author always managed to put an unforseeable spin or twist on it. Fantastic story that is somehow both chilling and heartwarming.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just found this incredibly boring and unrealistic. If I didnt know better I would swear it was written by a man with a really strong dislike for women in general. Do NOT compare it in any way to A Handmaids Tale-- that would be a laughably transparent effort to sell a few more copies of this strange gruel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So, this was a interesting premise and quick read. It wasnt five star worthy but i didnt think i had wasted my time. One weird part where the character speaks to the reader threw me off a bit. If your looking for something between series you should give it a try.
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afurz More than 1 year ago
This book I read for a book club I am in. I would not have picked it myself, it was an okay read. But not sure I would recommend it highly.
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